“I’m not satisfied (with 20+ goals). I want to continue to play well and help my team win games. It was a big night for us, and I’m happy we could leave [Laval] with four points.”

– Kieffer Bellows

“I thought we defended well and were opportunistic on our opportunities.”

– John Gruden

After emerging victorious amid the shenanigans and nastiness of Friday night’s game, the Toronto Marlies produced a professional performance less than 24 hours later in the rematch in Laval.

After withstanding an early push from the Rocket, the Marlies never looked back after breaking the game open in the second period.

First Period

The opening 10 minutes of the game were frantic and probably not to John Gruden’s liking as the two teams exchanged chances off the rush.

Logan Shaw (twice), Ryan Tverberg, and Nick Abruzzese were guilty of not capitalizing on grade-A chances. At the other end of the ice, Dennis Hildeby turned aside Lucas Condotta, Mitchell Stephens (x2), and Jan Mysak on a breakaway.  

There was an almost seven-minute lull without a shot recorded by either team, a spell in which Toronto took the sting out of the game. 

The opening goal arrived in the final five minutes. Perseverance was the name of the game as Kieffer Bellows attempted a shot from the top of the circles that was blocked in front. Despite three Laval players in the vicinity, none reacted before Bellows followed up on his own shot to score on the rebound.

Second Period

The Marlies began the middle frame on a power play carrying over from the first period. Nick Abruzzese struck the crossbar, although his frustration was shortlived as the Marlies drew another penalty and scored during 5-on-3 action.

Arbuzzese picked up the rebound after Logan Shaw’s effort was blocked by Kasimir Kaskisuo on an initial feed from Abruzzese below the goal line.

A dangerous hit sent Matt Anderson hurtling into the boards as Laval’s nastiness reared its head for the first time in the game. Thankfully, Anderson was fine, and Toronto made the Rocket pay on the scoreboard.

After a booming shot from Shaw snuck through the equipment of Kaskisuo, Joseph Blandisi reacted quickest to ease the loose puck across the goal line.

Two goals inside the opening five minutes of the period prompted a timeout by the Rocket. It didn’t alter the course of the game as the Marlies found the net again four minutes later.

Anderson took a crushing hit to make a play off the wall and out. While the Laval fans were cheering at the sight of a white jersey flying to the ice, Anderson’s selfless play allowed Roni Hirvonin to set in motion a 2v1 led by Josiah Slavin.

The towering forward saw Kaskisuo slightly cheating for the pass to the right, where Slavin ripped a shot short-side to make it a 4-0 game. The former Toronto Marlies netminder was chased from the game after allowing four goals in 29 minutes.

The Marlies almost made it 5-0 with their first shot on Jakub Dobeš. Grant Cruikshank was unable to elevate the puck enough to beat the goaltender after an excellent feed from Bellows.

Alex Steeves earned a penalty shot during a penalty kill, but he couldn’t convert it for his 20th goal of the campaign.

In an otherwise exemplary period from Toronto, they breathed some life into the home team by gifting them a shorthanded goal in the final minute. It was sloppy, lazy play by the Marlies as Philippe Maillet scored on an odd-man rush. It was rough justice on Dennis Hildeby, who looked set for another shutout such was Toronto’s dominance to that point. 

Third Period

The Marlies stomped out any hope of a Laval comeback by scoring a fifth goal at the four-minute mark.

Cruikshank would have broken in alone if he had been able to corral a lofted pass by Bellows, but the rookie kept the play alive in the left corner, shrugging off a big hit before sending the puck back to the point. A wrist shot by Topi Niemelä was brilliantly redirected by Bellows for his second of the game.

Hildeby shut the door for the rest of the way, with Laval threatening mostly on a pair of power plays. When their frustration boiled over with a shot at Hildeby after the whistle, Topi Niemelä stepped in with a response:

Niemelä was assessed the only penalty on the play, but it was worth it and showed the character and growth in his game.

Post Game Notes

–  Taking four points from Laval this weekend was imperative. In doing so, the Marlies have opened up a five-point gap and can now strive toward a top-four finish. The Marlies lead the season series 4-2-0 with two games remaining.

–  Defenseman Matt Anderson has impressed in three games since he was signed to a PTO. Despite no previous experience in the AHL, Anderson has slotted in on the third pairing without any tumult. He’s looked confident and has made the percentage calls in possession. His reward was a pair of assists in this game.

–  Kieffer Bellows scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season. After six games without appearing on the scoresheet earlier in the month, Bellows now has five points (3G/2A) in as many games.

–  Toronto’s leading scorer is now Joseph Blandisi. A goal and an assist capped off a five-point weekend for the forward. Blandisi has 45 points (18G/27A) in 48 games this season.

–  Friday’s game took its toll on Marlies, with three injuries sustained: Tommy Miller (lower body, indefinite), Robert Mastrosimone (upper body, week-to-week), and Dylan Gambrell (lower body, day-to-day). 

– An update from Newfoundland: Goaltending prospect Slava Peksa has yet to play in the AHL and has endured some struggles in the ECHL this season, but the good news is that the goaltender has posted a .933 save percentage in his last six starts with the Growlers, including a 49-save performance in the most recent game.

– Saturday’s lineup vs. Laval:

Steeves – Shaw – Tverberg
Bellows – Cruikshank – Abruzzese
Clifford – Blandisi – Solow
Hirvonen – Slavin – Ellis

Rifai – Kokkonen
Gaunce – Niemelä
Anderson – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: Bellows, Rifai & Gruden

Game Highlights: Marlies 5 vs. Rocket 1